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Finding Home

from The Atlantic

Faraway Planets Don’t Seem So Distant Anymore

Astronomers are stepping up their attempts to unravel the mysteries of exoplanets.

By Marina Koren

An illustration of planets orbiting beneath a question mark
NASA; Paul Spella / The Atlantic

One of astronomy’s most exciting discoveries began, as did many things in the 1990s, with a fax.

Didier Queloz, then an astronomer at the University of Geneva, spent the summer of ’94 sorting through data from a new piece of telescope technology that measured the subtle movements of stars. Such movements, scientists had theorized, could potentially suggest the presence of planets outside our solar system, orbiting their own suns. The gravity of a faraway planet could tug at its star, making the star wobble ever so slightly. No one had ever discovered a so-called exoplanet in this way before, so when Queloz finally did find a wobbling star, he thought it might be an instrument error. But the mysterious quiver didn’t go away. So Queloz sent a fax to his adviser, Michel Mayor, who was in Hawaii on sabbatical: “I think I found a planet.”

[ click to continue reading at The Atlantic ]

Posted on August 14, 2021 by Editor

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